By Amie Gordon For Mailonline
Published: 08:57 GMT, 24 December 2019 | Updated: 18:04 GMT, 24 December 2019
The Royal Family were reunited today after Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall arrived at Sandringham in time to meet Prince Philip following his four-night stay in hospital.
The Duke of Edinburgh, 98, was met with rapturous applause from visitors and well-wishers on the ground after arriving at the Norfolk estate in a helicopter.
Charles, 71, and his wife Camilla arrived at the Queen’s estate in a separate helicopter shortly beforehand.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Prince Philip had left King Edward VII’s hospital in central London at 8.49am following treatment for a pre-existing medical condition, before being driven to Buckingham Palace and then flown by helicopter Sandringham in Norfolk, arriving at 9.40am.
The Duke thanked medical staff and shook the hand of his nurse as he left the hospital where he had spent four nights, before walking to his car unaided.
Flight tracking records reveal he was picked up in London at around 9.05am by a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter which whisked him up to the 20,000-acre Royal estate, flying at speeds of up to 175mph at a height of 3,300ft.
Philip’s return to Sandringham will have added significance for his family because while most people open their presents on Christmas Day, the royal family still keep to the German practice of unwrapping their gifts on Christmas Eve.
Traditionally the Queen, duke and other royals congregate in the White Drawing Room at Sandringham House around a 20ft tree, cut from the estate, for the exchange of presents displayed nearby on a white linen-covered trestle table.
Philip’s flight directly into the grounds of Sandringham was in contrast to the flight which took him into hospital, cloaked in secrecy.
The Duke was seen leaving the King Edward VII hospital in central London this morning, where he has spent four nights this week before heading home to Sandringham for Christmas
Pictured: Prince Philip arrives at Sandringham by helicopter following his treatment at King Edward VII hospital in London, where he spent four nights
Prince Philip spent four nights in the King Edward VII’s hospital in central London and left at 8.49am today, heading to Sandringham for Christmas by helicopter
Charles, 71, and his wife Camilla (pictured in Portsmouth) arrived at the Queen ‘s estate in a separate helicopter shortly beforehand
His planned admittance on Friday, to the central London private hospital which has been treating members of the royal family for decades, was described as a ‘precautionary measure’ by Buckingham Palace
The 98-year-old walked out of the hospital and into a waiting car this morning, in time to join his family for Christmas
Prince Philip, 98, strolled alongside a nurse to his waiting car today, Christmas Eve
The Duke of Edinburgh has been released from hospital after four nights of treatment for an undisclosed ailment – just in time to return to Sandringham for Christmas
Philip waved to a doctor who accompanied him out of the building, before shaking the hand of a nurse by his side
The Duke thanked medical staff as he left today, warmly shaking the hand of the nurse who walked out with him
The 98-year-old had been in hospital since Friday morning and was admitted after a period of poor health, battling a ‘flu-like’ illness for weeks and suffering a ‘bad fall’. He is pictured leaving in his car today
The Duke was driven to Buckingham Palace where he was then taken by helicopter to the Sandringham Estate
Prince Philip has boasted excellent health for a 98-year-old and has repeatedly insisted he has not had the flu for more than 40 years.
Not to be cowed by his ill health in recent years, he still enjoys an active life and continues with his carriage driving, which he took up in 1971 after retiring from polo.
In 1961, the Duke broke a bone in his left ankle in a collision on the polo field.
Polo also left him suffering from arthritis in his right wrist, a condition made worse by shaking many thousands of hands at official function.
But in recent years he has struggled a little more with illness. These are the recent, most high-profile cases.
December 2011: The prince is airlifted to hospital from Sandringham two days before Christmas after suffering chest pains, and undergoes surgery for a blocked coronary artery.
June 2012: Philip is taken to hospital after developing a urinary infection during the river pageant to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
June 2013: Philip has abdominal surgery for an undisclosed condition and spends 11 days in hospital, including his 92nd birthday.
December 2016: Both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh suddenly cancel plans to leave London for their festive break in Norfolk after they both come down with heavy colds.
June 2017: Philip admitted to hospital as ‘a precautionary measure’ for an infection arising from a pre-existing condition, the Palace said
April 2018: The Duke of Edinburgh spends 11 days in hospital following his successful hip replacement
December 20, 2019: Philip, 98, left Sandringham to attend the King Edward VII Hospital in London.
December 24: Philip is released from hospital in time to join his family at Sandringham for Christmas Day
The Duke was admitted for a few days as a precautionary measure and for observation, after a period of poor health, which saw him battling a ‘flu-like’ illness for weeks and suffering a ‘bad fall’.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said today: ‘The Duke of Edinburgh has today left hospital after being discharged by his Doctor and is now back at Sandringham.
‘His Royal Highness would like to thank everyone who sent their good wishes.’
Speaking about his father to reporters as he visited the flood-hit village of Fishlake yesterday afternoon, Prince Charles said: ‘He’s being looked after very well in hospital. At the moment that’s all we know.’
It comes as the Queen is expected to reflect on the ‘bumpy’ year endured by both the Royal Family and the nation in her Christmas broadcast tomorrow.
The nature of his illness has not been revealed but in 2012 and 2017 he was admitted to hospital with bladder infections.
Philip, who famously claims his health is so robust that he’s not had flu since the 1970s, was last at the King Edward VII Hospital in 2018 for a hip replacement, spending 11 days there.
Police stepped up security with extra patrols on the roads around Sandringham House as the helicopter swooped in over West Newton.
Villagers and visitors to the estate watching from the ground cheered and clapped as they gazed up at the sky to see the twin-engined helicopter overhead.
The helicopter touched down on one of the lawns at Sandringham House, meaning Philip only had a short walk to get into the warm inside.
His arrival after four nights in hospital provided a fantastic early Christmas present for the Queen and other members of the Royal family.
His flight to hospital in the same helicopter on Friday morning is believed to have taken off from RAF Marham, around 12 miles south of Sandringham, to ensure it was not seen by photographers.
It then landed in south east London to avoid scrutiny, and he was driven by car to the King George VII Hospital where he walked in unaided.
The helicopter which took Philip back to Sandringham today started its journey from its base in Hampshire shortly before 8.30am.
It arrived around 15 minutes later at a secret location in north London to pick Philip up, spending around 20 minutes on the ground before taking off again for Sandringham.
The Duke was last week flown from the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk to the King Edward VII Hospital in Marylebone, London amid growing concern for his health.
Today, he got into a car in a secluded street behind the hospital and was sitting in the front passenger seat.
Multiple police stood guard around the hospital as well as royal protection officers.
Police officers have been stationed outside the hospital over the weekend, while the Duke was kept in for observation
A doctor and a nurse walked alongside the 98-year-old out of the hospital in central London
The Duke of Edinburgh today leaving King Edward VII Hospital in London, after being admitted last Friday for observation and treatment in relation to a pre-existing condition
The 98-year-old looked weary but in good spirits as he got into the passenger seat, unaided
The fiercely independent 98-year-old declined any help as he walked to his car and got in, before driving to the palace
Prince Philip was typically dapper in his suit and tie this morning, but shunned a coat despite the biting temperature
At 98, Prince Philip is in better health than many men his age but the Iron Duke has suffered a few scares in recent years.
In January he walked away from a car crash close to the Queen’s Sandringham Estate with barely a scratch on him.
But the experience was understood to have left him badly shaken.
The accident was just weeks after he missed joining the Royal Family at church on Christmas Day due to a heavy cold.
Prince Philip, pictured in May, took up carriage driving in 1971 when he retired from playing polo
In April 2018, Philip had a hip replacement but amazed medical staff with his swift recovery, walking unaided at Prince Harry’s wedding the following month.
More seriously, Philip was rushed into Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire for emergency heart surgery at Christmas 2011 after suffering a blocked artery, which involved him having a stent fitted. He was also forced to pull out of several key engagements to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 having developed a severe bladder infection.
In 2013 he was admitted to hospital for what palace officials described as ‘exploratory’ abdominal surgery.
He only began to use hearing aids in 2014, aged 93, but is said to have been frustrated by his failing eyesight of late. Philip is already the longest-serving consort in British history and the oldest serving partner of a reigning monarch.
His good health is in part down to his active lifestyle as a younger man. He has always been a keen sportsman, taking up carriage driving in 1971 when he officially retired from playing polo.
Philip represented Britain at several European and World Championships and continued to compete into his early 80s. He still enjoys the sport recreationally.
In 2010 he escaped major injury in a carriage driving accident, while a female groom half his age was taken to hospital.
Aides have always admitted it is difficult to persuade Philip to slow down and he cannot bear anyone making a fuss. But he finally announced his retirement from public life in May 2017.
The following month he missed the State Opening of Parliament due to an infection and in August made his last official public engagement at the age of 96.
The royal family exchange gifts on Christmas Eve and have a formal dinner, after which the duke usually serves port or brandy to the men.
They attend the morning service at the Church of St Mary Magdalene on the royal estate and greet well-wishers, although Philip is thought unlikely to attend as he missed the service last year despite being said to be in good health.
Philip has been cared for at the central London hospital since his planned admission on Friday.
His admittance to the private hospital, which has been treating members of the royal family for decades, was described as a ‘precautionary measure’ by Buckingham Palace.
Asked about the 98-year-old’s health, his eldest son the Prince of Wales told reporters on Monday: ‘He’s being looked after very well in hospital.
‘At the moment that’s all we know.’
During the visit to flood-hit communities in South Yorkshire, Charles added: ‘When you get to that age things don’t work so well.’
The duke, who turned 98 in June, has generally enjoyed good health, appearing to recover well from a planned hip replacement operation in April 2018.
According to reports, his admission follows a spell of ill health – the Sun quoted a royal source saying the duke had a fall recently, while the Mail reported he had been battling a flu-like condition.
Philip escaped with minor injuries after a dramatic car crash near Sandringham in January, but in the past decade has been admitted to hospital for abdominal surgery, bladder infections and a blocked coronary artery.
Philip is known for his ‘no fuss’ approach and is unlikely to have received many visitors while he was being treated at the hospital.
Buckingham Palace would not go into details about Philip’s pre-existing condition, or the nature of his treatment.
Philip’s decision to retire from public duties during 2017 was not health-related, Buckingham Palace said at the time of the announcement.
As Philip has continued late into his 90s, concerns for his well-being have increased following a number of health scares.
Abdominal surgery, bladder infections and a blocked coronary artery have seen him admitted to hospital on a number of occasions.
Philip suffers from arthritis in his right wrist, and broke a bone in his ankle playing polo.
He also developed synovitis, a rheumatic condition of the tendon in the hand, after a polo fall.
In late 2011, the Duke, then aged 90, was rushed to hospital by helicopter from Sandringham after suffering chest pains as the Royal Family were preparing for Christmas.
In the serious health scare, he was treated for a blocked coronary artery at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire and underwent a minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting, and spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day in hospital.
And in the midst of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June 2012, the Duke was forced to miss the majority of the festivities after falling ill with a bladder infection.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘His Royal Highness would like to thank everyone who sent their good wishes.’
Multiple police stood guard around the hospital, as well as royal protection officers, as the Duke came out
Philip got into a car in a secluded street behind the hospital and was seen sitting in the front passenger seat
Medical staff from the hospital looked on as the Duke made his way to his Land Rover before being taken to his family
Philip waved at a nurse as he was escorted to the car but did not respond to photographers as he was driven away from the private hospital
Philip’s return to Sandringham will have added significance for his family because while most people open their presents on Christmas Day, the royal family still keep to the German practice of unwrapping their gifts on Christmas Eve
Traditionally the Queen, duke and other royals congregate in the White Drawing Room at Sandringham House around a 20ft tree, cut from the estate, for the exchange of presents displayed nearby on a white linen-covered trestle table
Having Philip back at Sandringham will give the occasion real importance for the royals who have endured a ‘bumpy’ year as the Queen will say in her Christmas Day broadcast
Asked about the 98-year-old’s health, his eldest son the Prince of Wales told reporters on Monday: ‘He’s being looked after very well in hospital. ‘At the moment that’s all we know.’ During the visit to flood-hit communities in South Yorkshire, Charles added: ‘When you get to that age things don’t work so well.’
The duke, who turned 98 in June, has generally enjoyed good health, appearing to recover well from a planned hip replacement operation in April 2018
Philip escaped with minor injuries after a dramatic car crash near Sandringham in January, but in the past decade has been admitted to hospital for abdominal surgery, bladder infections and a blocked coronary artery
Philip is known for his ‘no fuss’ approach and is unlikely to have received many visitors while he was being treated at the hospital
Buckingham Palace would not go into details about Philip’s pre-existing condition, or the nature of his treatment
Philip’s decision to retire from public duties during 2017 was not health-related, Buckingham Palace said at the time of the announcemen
The Duke has also made several trips to the King Edward VII’s private hospital, in Marylebone, in recent years.
In June 2017, the Duke spent the day at Royal Ascot, where the hot weather meant the dress code in the Royal Enclosure was relaxed for the first time.
That same evening, he was admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital as a precautionary measure, for treatment for an infection arising from a pre-existing condition.
He missed the State Opening of Parliament, with the Prince of Wales stepping in to accompany the Queen, before being discharged after a two-night stay.
In March 2018, he missed the Maundy Thursday service with the Queen because of a problem with his hip and a few days later, in April, Philip was admitted to hospital ahead of a planned hip replacement.
The Duke left hospital 10 days later.
In January this year, Philip was involved in a car crash when the Land Rover Freelander he was driving flipped over after colliding with another car near the Sandringham estate.
The Duke then voluntarily gave up his licence but although he doesn’t drive on public roads he has been seen pootling around the Queen’s estates.
Friday is a change from recent years when she has tended to travel on a Thursday.
Prince Philip was last pictured on the Balmoral estate (above) on August 14
The Queen and Prince Philip were last pictured together at an Order of Merit event at Windsor Castle on May 7. Since he retired from royal duties he has largely been missing from any of his wife’s events
Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and medical director of Healthspan, told MailOnline Prince Philip, ‘has a good chance of achieving his hundredth year.’
Dr Brewer added: ‘Prince Philip looks as you would expect for an elderly gentleman approaching his centenary.
‘As we get older, we all become more prone to conditions such as urinary and respiratory infections, arthritis and hardening and furring up of the arteries.
‘With good screening and medical interventions these can be overcome to a certain extent.
‘We all have to go from something – and there are over a 100 possible causes of demise – but enjoying a long and healthy lifespan – sometimes referred to as our healthspan – depends on a combination of your genes, personality, diet, lifestyle and medical care.
‘Prince Philip has a good chance of achieving his hundredth year.’
The Duke of Edinburgh has travelled to King Edward VII Hospital in London for observation and treatment in relation to a pre-existing condition, Buckingham Palace confirmed today. Here is a timeline of Philip’s appearances and health since his retirement from public life in August 2017:
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Christmas card shows the couple grinning as adorable baby Archie stares down the camera lens
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been urged by Royal family members to return from abroad to spend Christmas in the UK.
The couple have missed the Queen’s pre-Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace and they will not be present for the traditional royal family gathering at the monarch’s private Sandringham estate on Christmas Day.
It comes after a family Christmas card of the royal couple smiling sat in front of a Christmas tree, with Archie’s adorable face staring down the camera lens, was revealed.
The enchanting family photo shows the Duke and Duchess of Sussex laughing as they pose in front of a Christmas tree, with Archie’s cute face popping up in the foreground of the image.
The festive black and white card was shared on social media by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust on Monday night and says: ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from our family to yours.’
The enchanting family photo shows the Duke and Duchess of Sussex laughing as they pose in front of a Christmas tree, with Archie’s cute face popping up in the foreground of the image
At the bottom is says ‘this year we have chosen to send our holiday card electronically.’
In a tweet the Trust said: ‘Just sharing the sweetest Christmas Card from our President and Vice-President, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Very Merry Christmas, everyone!’
Their festive tidings feature one image of one of their beloved Norfolk terriers nose-deep in a bush (pictured) showing its rear end to the camera
If there is one person who might want to see the back of 2019, it is the Duke of York.
And it looks like he and ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York, have made some not-so-thinly veiled references to it in their Christmas cards to family and friends.
Their festive tidings feature one image of one of their beloved Norfolk terriers nose-deep in a bush showing its rear end to the camera, with the caption: ‘Say Goodbye to 2019.’
Another photo shows what is believed to be the Queen’s Balmoral estate and a path through the Highlands, with the message: ‘We Look to the Road Ahead.’
Inside the white embossed card – also from daughters Beatrice, 31, and Eugenie, 29 – there is the printed message: ‘We are united with gratitude for your support and kindness, Thank you.’
The implication could not be any clearer – we are a family and we stand together, no matter what.
The message of unity follows Andrew’s disastrous interview with the BBC last month in which he tried to clear his name over the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal.
It is understood that copies of the image, taken by the couple’s friend Janina Gavankar, were emailed to friends and staff on Monday and hard copies sent to family.
A source told the Mirror: ‘Harry and Meghan sent a selection of hard copy cards to family but chose to send their cards electronically this year with the aim of being environmentally conscious as well as being in Canada where they are currently enjoying a six week break away from royal duties.’
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex flew with their eight-month-old son to Canada last month, but some royals have insisted the couple should break their six-week long visit, as reported by The Sun.
A source told the newspaper: ‘Even before the Duke became ill, many were at a loss as to why Harry and Meghan would miss what could be one of the last family Christmases with the Queen and Philip.
‘They are absolutely entitled to a proper break and privacy, but they’ve had six weeks off.
‘What about some lovely family photos and memories with baby Archie?
‘Many of the family were very keen to see him over Christmas, but were told they couldn’t as they were abroad.
‘There is a feeling they are being inconsiderate and selfish, given the Queen and Philip’s advancing age.’
The source added the royal couple are thought to be in Canada to take in everything that has happened this year, and see if they still want to be working royals.
The duchess, a former actress, lived and worked in Toronto during her time starring in the popular US drama Suits, and the couple were famously pictured together when Meghan joined her then-boyfriend Harry at the 2017 Invictus Games in the Canadian city.
Buckingham Palace had previously announced the Sussexes intended to take a six-week break from duties and would not spend Christmas at Sandringham with the Royal Family.
In a November statement, an official said: ‘The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are looking forward to extended family time towards the end of this month. Having spent the last two Christmases at Sandringham, their royal highnesses will spend the holiday this year, as a new family, with the duchess’s mother Doria.
‘This decision is in line with precedent set previously by other members of the Royal Family and has the support of Her Majesty The Queen.’
Palace sources said at the time it was likely that they would be spending time in the US.
But the Mail understands the family later decided to stay in Canada and will remain there until the New Year.
The Queen is said to be supportive of the Sussexes’ plans and it follows the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s past decision to spend Christmas with Kate’s parents and not with the Queen.
Addressing a turbulent 12 months in which Prince Andrew was forced to step down from public duties, the Queen will say ‘small steps’ can overcome difficulties and division.
Her annual broadcast will be directed mainly at national issues in a year dominated by Brexit and a general election.
But royal sources said it would also cover problems in her own family.
The Queen uses her Christmas message to acknowledge a turbulent 2019 for the royals and says we can overcome difficulties with ‘small steps’ (but there’s no photo of Harry and Meghan on her desk like last year… and definitely no Andrew!)
By Vanessa Allen and Rebecca English for the Daily Mail
The Queen will reflect on the ‘bumpy’ year endured by both the Royal Family and the nation in her Christmas broadcast tomorrow.
Addressing a turbulent 12 months in which Prince Andrew was forced to step down from public duties, she will say ‘small steps’ can overcome difficulties and division.
Her annual broadcast will be directed mainly at national issues in a year dominated by Brexit and a general election. But royal sources said it would also cover problems in her own family.
Prince Philip faced a police probe over a car crash, Prince Harry acknowledged tensions in his relationship with his elder brother William, and Harry’s wife Meghan admitted she was struggling with her new life as a royal.
But the biggest ‘bump’ faced by the Royal Family was the fallout from the Duke of York’s disastrous Newsnight interview about his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
In a photograph of her speech released today, there was no picture of Prince Harry and Meghan on her desk like last year – when she had two in the shot – and also no sign of Prince Andrew.
2019, A SLIMMED-DOWN ROYAL FAMILY: The Queen sits beside photographs of Charles and Camilla (1), Prince Philip (2), the Cambridges’ Christmas card picture (3), and her father George VI
2018: Queen Elizabeth II after she recorded her annual Christmas Day message, in the White Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace in London. Prince Harry and Meghan can be seen in two framed photographs (circled)
Andrew, 59, is expected to watch his mother’s televised broadcast to the nation with the rest of the family at Sandringham tomorrow.
She will say: ‘Small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.
‘The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.’
The comments are believed to be her first public reference to the turmoil faced by her family this year.
She dubbed 1992 an ‘annus horribilis’ in a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession.
In that year Charles separated from Princess Diana, Andrew split from his wife Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Phillips, and a fire engulfed Windsor Castle.
Andrew stepped back from public life following November’s ‘car crash’ BBC interview in which he attempted to explain his friendship with Epstein.
He repeatedly denied claims that he had sex with one of the disgraced financier’s victims, Virginia Roberts, when she was just 17. Miss Roberts then accused him of lying.
The Queen’s second son also faced calls to speak to the FBI about his relationship with Epstein, who was found dead in his prison cell in August awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
Andrew was effectively sacked by his mother after his older brother Charles warned her that the scandal threatened to engulf the monarchy. He is expected to join the family at church tomorrow but may choose to sit with the Queen as she is driven to the service instead of joining the rest of the family as they walk and greet wellwishers.
For the first time Prince George and Princess Charlotte may accompany their parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It is thought that at six and four they are now old enough to sit through the service.
Their younger brother, Prince Louis, 19 months, will stay at Sandringham with his nanny, Maria Borrallo.
Royal sources say William and Kate will make a final decision, in conjunction with the Queen, on whether to bring the children when they wake up tomorrow morning.
Harry and Meghan will not be at Sandringham, but will spend their first Christmas with baby Archie with Meghan’s mother Doria in Canada, as revealed last Saturday by the Mail.
The couple also missed the Queen’s pre-Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace. Harry and William split their households earlier this year following reports of a rift between them.
In a TV documentary, Harry said his relationship with his elder brother had ‘good days and bad days’, and they were ‘on different paths’.
RICHARD KAY: This year’s is the Queen’s most painful message yet – and every picture you can see in the background tells the story of why
For many millions, it is as integral a part of Christmas Day as roast turkey, mince pies and exchanging presents.
Tomorrow, families all over Britain will gather around the television at 3pm to watch the Queen’s annual message.
It is always one of the most watched programmes on TV and this year, with Her Majesty’s acknowledgement of the ‘bumpy’ path the Royal Family and the nation has experienced in the past 12 months, it is likely to be more compelling viewing than ever.
After so many broadcasts the Queen, of course, is comfortably familiar in front of the camera, but even so this year she will quite possibly deliver her most difficult, her most painful and perhaps, from the monarchy’s point of view, her most crucial Christmas message ever.
With Her Majesty’s acknowledgement of the ‘bumpy’ path the Royal Family and the nation has experienced in the past 12 months, it is likely to be more compelling viewing than ever (pictured: making this year’s broadcast to the nation from Windsor Castle in Berkshire)
Viewers will search for obvious clues in her words about the family crises that have rocked the royals, from Prince Andrew’s catastrophic television interview about his friendship with a convicted sex offender to Prince Harry and Meghan’s struggles with living in the royal spotlight, and ongoing worries over Prince Philip, who has spent the past four days in hospital.
Speaking about the difficulties of the last year in which Andrew had to step back from public duties, she will acknowledge the importance of ‘small steps’ in overcoming problems.
Her words will be addressed primarily to the country as a whole following a year of political turmoil over the election and Brexit, but royal sources say they will also speak to the problems in her own family.
The comments – albeit thinly-veiled – are nonetheless her first public reference to the personal turmoil endured by her family this year.
As well as Andrew, Philip faced a police investigation over a car crash which injured two women, while Prince Harry admitted to tensions in his relationship with his older brother William. Inevitably they will be compared with another difficult domestic year for the Queen – 1992, which she dubbed her ‘annus horribilis’.
That was the year of three royal marriage break-ups – including Charles and Diana – as well as the Windsor Castle fire and the public row over who would pay for the repairs.
Last year, to mark the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday the closest pictures to hand were of her and Philip holding their infant son and another of grandfather Charles posing with both his sons, their wives and grandchildren
But on that occasion she used another speech marking her 40th anniversary as monarch to speak out. Her Christmas message, however, referred only to the fact that her family had ‘lived through some difficult days this year’.
With her references to a path which ‘is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference’, observers believe she may also have been drawing on a verse quoted by her father for his Christmas message exactly 80 years ago.
In December 1939 Britain had just embarked on a world war and no one knew the outcome. King George VI quoted Minnie Louise Haskins poem God Knows, which tells of a man who wishes to ‘tread safely into the unknown’.
It was also used at the Queen Mother’s funeral.
But every year the Queen also goes beyond her mere address to convey a broader message through the careful curating of family photographs strategically placed on the desk at her side or on tables close at hand.
A year further back, 2017, and Philip is foremost in the Queen’s thoughts. It was the year of their 70th wedding anniversary and there is a picture of their November 20, 1947, wedding day and another touching portrait to mark the anniversary
Their purpose, however, does not change – to indicate her thoughts on things which have special meaning. This year is no exception. So what does this year’s picture – a still from the broadcast – tell us about the family, and more pertinently about the monarchy?
It was taken last week at Windsor Castle in the green drawing room where cameras had been set up to record the annual message.
Context is important. It was after the election but before the Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London to be treated for a pre-existing but undisclosed condition.
The fact is the Queen does regularly change the family photographs that adorn her desk, but unquestionably there is a special significance in the ones that appear – as well as the ones that do not – for the recording of the Christmas broadcast.
This year it is noticeable that there is no picture of the newest addition to the Royal Family, Prince Harry’s son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in the line of succession to the throne and the Queen’s eighth great grandchild.
Instead, aside from Philip in the background, the pictures focus on the immediate line of succession, namely her father King George VI, her son the Prince of Wales and the heirs in line Prince William and Prince George.
In many ways the photographs chosen represent the enduring strength and continuity of the monarchy and are a signal that the Royal Family are here for the good times as well as the bad. King George in naval uniform is pictured making an address to the nation in 1944 with the Second World War at its most critical juncture, while William and his family are picture perfect in the summer sunshine of 2019.
More pictures of her loved ones surround the Queen during her 2015 message. Centre stage is a wedding-day snap of Charles and Camilla to mark their tenth wedding anniversary
They are also a snapshot of the past and the future – a King Emperor who came to the throne in 1936, a Queen who has reigned for almost 68 years and three princes-in-waiting who, with good fortune, should ensure the stability of the kingdom until at least the end of the 21st century.
The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII hospital in Marylebone, London
Prince Philip would have been in familiar surroundings at the private hospital in Westminster after being previously admitted for a ‘pre-existing condition’ in April 2018.
The hospital, which only has 56 beds across its wards, was set up in 1899 to treat former servicemen and the general public as soldiers returned from the Second Boer War.
King Edward VII became the hospital’s first patron in 1901 and it continues to be recognised by the royal family today.
In recent years, it has been used by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cambridge.
In 1995, the Queen Mother had her right hip replaced during an operation at the hospital.
The 90-minute operation was carried out at the famous hospital and she had had treatment there before.
Meanwhile, in 2002, Princess Margaret suffered a stroke and died at the hospital at the age of 71.
In June 2017, the Duke of Edinburgh stayed there for two nights after he was treated for an infection which forced him to miss a royal event.
He was said then to be suffering from an infection triggered by a ‘pre-existing condition’.
The Duke was admitted on that occasion on the advice of a doctor and the setback forced the Duke to miss the State Opening of Parliament and some of Royal Ascot.
And in 2018 he spent 11 days there as he had his hip replaced.
Charles, who is photographed with Camilla, is also given pride of place to mark the 50th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales. There may be, however, another meaning in the photographic arrangement.
Might the Queen be demonstrating a subtle nod to her son’s wishes for a smaller, slimmed-down monarchy which Charles believes will make it more relevant and more resilient?
In the past the Queen has seemed indifferent to such ideas, pointing to the devotion to public service of the minor royals such as the Gloucesters and the Kents. But the issue suddenly seems to have been strengthened this Christmas in the wake of Prince Andrew and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
Intriguingly, just out of shot is a picture of the Queen with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, who became the first men on the moon in 1969 – the only year the Queen did not deliver a Christmas broadcast. (Following the Prince of Wales’ investiture and the documentary The Royal Family, it was felt there had been a surfeit of royalty on TV that year.)
So what are the secret photographic props the Queen has used in previous December 25 messages?
Last year, to mark the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday the closest pictures to hand were of her and Philip holding their infant son and another of grandfather Charles posing with both his sons, their wives and grandchildren.
A side table was decorated with wedding pictures of Harry and Meghan, and of Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, who all married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 2018.
A year further back, 2017, and Philip is foremost in the Queen’s thoughts. It was the year of their 70th wedding anniversary and there is a picture of their November 20, 1947, wedding day and another touching portrait to mark the anniversary.
In the foreground, however, are pictures of George and Princess Charlotte. I am told that they were positioned by the TV production team recording the Christmas film.
‘From time to time the producers have their own ideas of which royals they also want in the shot and the Queen is always happy to go along with it,’ says a courtier.
More pictures of her loved ones surround the Queen during her 2015 message. Centre stage is a wedding-day snap of Charles and Camilla to mark their tenth wedding anniversary.
It has special memories for the Queen – she didn’t attend the marriage ceremony in Windsor Guildhall, but she spoke warmly at their reception and it marked the end of a painful episode for the royals.
Nearby are William, Kate and George together with six-month-old Charlotte, the new addition to the family. But the Queen’s desk is dominated with a favourite picture of her and Philip. Smiling and relaxed in headscarf and cap as they lean on sticks, it is how THEY see each other.
Sometimes the pictures are placed to reinforce a central part of the Christmas message. This was especially so in 2002, a year in which the Queen lost both her mother and sister.
At her side are a young Princess Margaret, who died aged 71, and another of the Queen Mother – who was 101 when she passed away – as a young woman, King George beside her.
The installation was a poignant reminder of the phrase the King used to describe his ideal family unit – ‘we four’ he referred to them as. The Queen is the only survivor of that loving little group
So remember when you sit down to watch the Queen tomorrow, every picture tells a story.
Prince Philip released from hospital for Sandringham Christmas
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